Victory was nowhere in sight. Alone, I floated upon the bosom of the Thames.
In that brief instant I believe that I suffered more mental anguish than _ave crowded into all the balance of my life before or since. A few hour_efore, I had been wishing that I might be rid of her, and now that she wa_one I would have given my life to have her back again.
Wearily I turned to swim about the spot where she had disappeared, hoping tha_he might rise once at least, and I would be given the opportunity to sav_er, and, as I turned, the water boiled before my face and her head shot u_efore me. I was on the point of striking out to seize her, when a happy smil_llumined her features.
"You are not dead!" she cried. "I have been searching the bottom for you. _as sure that the blow she gave you must have disabled you," and she glance_bout for the lioness.
"She has gone?" she asked.
"Dead," I replied.
"The blow you struck her with the thing you call rifle stunned her," sh_xplained, "and then I swam in close enough to get my knife into her heart."
Ah, such a girl! I could not but wonder what one of our own Pan-American wome_ould have done under like circumstances. But then, of course, they have no_een trained by stern necessity to cope with the emergencies and dangers o_avage primeval life.
Along the bank we had just quitted, a score of lions paced to and fro, growling menacingly. We could not return, and we struck out for the opposit_hore. I am a strong swimmer, and had no doubt as to my ability to cross th_iver, but I was not so sure about Victory, so I swam close behind her, to b_eady to give her assistance should she need it.
She did not, however, reaching the opposite bank as fresh, apparently, as whe_he entered the water. Victory is a wonder. Each day that we were togethe_rought new proofs of it. Nor was it her courage or vitality only which amaze_e. She had a head on those shapely shoulders of hers, and dignity! My, bu_he could be regal when she chose!
She told me that the lions were fewer upon this side of the river, but tha_here were many wolves, running in great packs later in the year. Now the_ere north somewhere, and we should have little to fear from them, though w_ight meet with a few.
My first concern was to take my weapons apart and dry them, which was rathe_ifficult in the face of the fact that every rag about me was drenched. Bu_inally, thanks to the sun and much rubbing, I succeeded, though I had no oi_o lubricate them.
We ate some wild berries and roots that Victory found, and then we set of_gain down the river, keeping an eye open for game on one side and the launc_n the other, for I thought that Delcarte, who would be the natural leade_uring my absence, might run up the Thames in search of me.
The balance of that day we sought in vain for game or for the launch, and whe_ight came we lay down, our stomachs empty, to sleep beneath the stars. W_ere entirely unprotected from attack from wild beasts, and for this reason _emained awake most of the night, on guard. But nothing approached us, thoug_ could hear the lions roaring across the river, and once I thought I hear_he howl of a beast north of us—it might have been a wolf.
Altogether, it was a most unpleasant night, and I determined then that if w_ere forced to sleep out again that I should provide some sort of shelte_hich would protect us from attack while we slept.
Toward morning I dozed, and the sun was well up when Victory aroused me b_ently shaking my shoulder.
"Antelope!" she whispered in my ear, and, as I raised my head, she pointed up- river. Crawling to my knees, I looked in the direction she indicated, to see _uck standing upon a little knoll some two hundred yards from us. There wa_ood cover between the animal and me, and so, though I might have hit him a_wo hundred yards, I preferred to crawl closer to him and make sure of th_eat we both so craved.
I had covered about fifty yards of the distance, and the beast was stil_eeding peacefully, so I thought that I would make even surer of a hit b_oing ahead another fifty yards, when the animal suddenly raised his head an_ooked away, up-river. His whole attitude proclaimed that he was startled b_omething beyond him that I could not see.
Realizing that he might break and run and that I should then probably miss hi_ntirely, I raised my rifle to my shoulder. But even as I did so the anima_eaped into the air, and simultaneously there was a sound of a shot fro_eyond the knoll.
For an instant I was dumbfounded. Had the report come from down-river, _hould have instantly thought that one of my own men had fired. But comin_rom up-river it puzzled me considerably. Who could there be with firearms i_rimitive England other than we of the Coldwater?
Victory was directly behind me, and I motioned for her to lie down, as I did, behind the bush from which I had been upon the point of firing at th_ntelope. We could see that the buck was quite dead, and from our hiding plac_e waited to discover the identity of his slayer when the latter shoul_pproach and claim his kill.
We had not long to wait, and when I saw the head and shoulders of a man appea_bove the crest of the knoll, I sprang to my feet, with a heartfelt cry o_oy, for it was Delcarte.
At the sound of my voice, Delcarte half raised his rifle in readiness for th_ttack of an enemy, but a moment later he recognized me, and was comin_apidly to meet us. Behind him was Snider. They both were astounded to see m_pon the north bank of the river, and much more so at the sight of m_ompanion.
Then I introduced them to Victory, and told them that she was queen o_ngland. They thought, at first, that I was joking. But when I had recounte_y adventures and they realized that I was in earnest, they believed me.
They told me that they had followed me inshore when I had not returned fro_he hunt, that they had met the men of the elephant country, and had had _hort and one-sided battle with the fellows. And that afterward they ha_eturned to the launch with a prisoner, from whom they had learned that I ha_robably been captured by the men of the lion country.
With the prisoner as a guide they had set off up-river in search of me, bu_ad been much delayed by motor trouble, and had finally camped after dark _alf mile above the spot where Victory and I had spent the night. They mus_ave passed us in the dark, and why I did not hear the sound of the propelle_ do not know, unless it passed me at a time when the lions were making a_nusually earsplitting din upon the opposite side.
Taking the antelope with us, we all returned to the launch, where we foun_aylor as delighted to see me alive again as Delcarte had been. I cannot sa_ruthfully that Snider evinced much enthusiasm at my rescue.
Taylor had found the ingredients for chemical fuel, and the distilling of the_ad, with the motor trouble, accounted for their delay in setting out afte_e.
The prisoner that Delcarte and Snider had taken was a powerful young fello_rom the elephant country. Notwithstanding the fact that they had all assure_im to the contrary, he still could not believe that we would not kill him.
He assured us that his name was Thirty-six, and, as he could not count abov_en, I am sure that he had no conception of the correct meaning of the word, and that it may have been handed down to him either from the military numbe_f an ancestor who had served in the English ranks during the Great War, o_hat originally it was the number of some famous regiment with which a forbea_ought.
Now that we were reunited, we held a council to determine what course w_hould pursue in the immediate future. Snider was still for setting out to se_nd returning to Pan-America, but the better judgment of Delcarte and Taylo_idiculed the suggestion—we should not have lived a fortnight.
To remain in England, constantly menaced by wild beasts and men equally a_ild, seemed about as bad. I suggested that we cross the Channel and ascertai_f we could not discover a more enlightened and civilized people upon th_ontinent. I was sure that some trace of the ancient culture and greatness o_urope must remain. Germany, probably, would be much as it was during th_wentieth century, for, in common with most Pan-Americans, I was positive tha_ermany had been victorious in the Great War.
Snider demurred at the suggestion. He said that it was bad enough to have com_his far. He did not want to make it worse by going to the continent. Th_utcome of it was that I finally lost my patience, and told him that from the_n he would do what I thought best—that I proposed to assume command of th_arty, and that they might all consider themselves under my orders, as much s_s though we were still aboard the Coldwater and in Pan-American waters.
Delcarte and Taylor immediately assured me that they had not for an instan_ssumed anything different, and that they were as ready to follow and obey m_ere as they would be upon the other side of thirty.
Snider said nothing, but he wore a sullen scowl. And I wished then, as I ha_efore, and as I did to a much greater extent later, that fate had not decree_hat he should have chanced to be a member of the launch's party upon tha_emorable day when last we quitted the Coldwater.
Victory, who was given a voice in our councils, was all for going to th_ontinent, or anywhere else, in fact, where she might see new sights an_xperience new adventures.
"Afterward we can come back to Grabritin," she said, "and if Buckingham is no_ead and we can catch him away from his men and kill him, then I can return t_y people, and we can all live in peace and happiness."
She spoke of killing Buckingham with no greater concern than one might evinc_n the contemplated destruction of a sheep; yet she was neither cruel no_indictive. In fact, Victory is a very sweet and womanly woman. But human lif_s of small account beyond thirty—a legacy from the bloody days when thousand_f men perished in the trenches between the rising and the setting of a sun, when they laid them lengthwise in these same trenches and sprinkled dirt ove_hem, when the Germans corded their corpses like wood and set fire to them, when women and children and old men were butchered, and great passenger ship_ere torpedoed without warning.
Thirty-six, finally assured that we did not intend slaying him, was as keen t_ccompany us as was Victory.
The crossing to the continent was uneventful, its monotony being relieved, however, by the childish delight of Victory and Thirty-six in the nove_xperience of riding safely upon the bosom of the water, and of being so fa_rom land.
With the possible exception of Snider, the little party appeared in the bes_f spirits, laughing and joking, or interestedly discussing the possibilitie_hich the future held for us: what we should find upon the continent, an_hether the inhabitants would be civilized or barbarian peoples.
Victory asked me to explain the difference between the two, and when I ha_ried to do so as clearly as possible, she broke into a gay little laugh.
"Oh," she cried, "then I am a barbarian!"
I could not but laugh, too, as I admitted that she was, indeed, a barbarian.
She was not offended, taking the matter as a huge joke. But some tim_hereafter she sat in silence, apparently deep in thought. Finally she looke_p at me, her strong white teeth gleaming behind her smiling lips.
"Should you take that thing you call 'razor,'" she said, "and cut the hai_rom the face of Thirty-six, and exchange garments with him, you would be th_arbarian and Thirty-six the civilized man. There is no other differenc_etween you, except your weapons. Clothe you in a wolfskin, give you a knif_nd a spear, and set you down in the woods of Grabritin—of what service woul_our civilization be to you?"
Delcarte and Taylor smiled at her reply, but Thirty-six and Snider laughe_proariously. I was not surprised at Thirty- six, but I thought that Snide_aughed louder than the occasion warranted. As a matter of fact, Snider, i_eemed to me, was taking advantage of every opportunity, however slight, t_how insubordination, and I determined then that at the first real breach o_iscipline I should take action that would remind Snider, ever after, that _as still his commanding officer.
I could not help but notice that his eyes were much upon Victory, and I di_ot like it, for I knew the type of man he was. But as it would not b_ecessary ever to leave the girl alone with him I felt no apprehension for he_afety.
After the incident of the discussion of barbarians I thought that Victory'_anner toward me changed perceptibly. She held aloof from me, and when Snide_ook his turn at the wheel, sat beside him, upon the pretext that she wishe_o learn how to steer the launch. I wondered if she had guessed the man'_ntipathy for me, and was seeking his company solely for the purpose o_iquing me.
Snider was, too, taking full advantage of his opportunity. Often he leane_oward the girl to whisper in her ear, and he laughed much, which was unusua_ith Snider.
Of course, it was nothing at all to me; yet, for some unaccountable reason, the sight of the two of them sitting there so close to one another and seemin_o be enjoying each other's society to such a degree irritated m_remendously, and put me in such a bad humor that I took no pleasur_hatsoever in the last few hours of the crossing.
We aimed to land near the site of ancient Ostend. But when we neared the coas_e discovered no indication of any human habitations whatever, let alone _ity. After we had landed, we found the same howling wilderness about us tha_e had discovered on the British Isle. There was no slightest indication tha_ivilized man had ever set a foot upon that portion of the continent o_urope.
Although I had feared as much, since our experience in England, I could no_ut own to a feeling of marked disappointment, and to the gravest fears of th_uture, which induced a mental depression that was in no way dissipated by th_ontinued familiarity between Victory and Snider.
I was angry with myself that I permitted that matter to affect me as it had. _id not wish to admit to myself that I was angry with this uncultured littl_avage, that it made the slightest difference to me what she did or what sh_id not do, or that I could so lower myself as to feel personal enmity toward_ common sailor. And yet, to be honest, I was doing both.
Finding nothing to detain us about the spot where Ostend once had stood, w_et out up the coast in search of the mouth of the River Rhine, which _urposed ascending in search of civilized man. It was my intention to explor_he Rhine as far up as the launch would take us. If we found no civilizatio_here we would return to the North Sea, continue up the coast to the Elbe, an_ollow that river and the canals of Berlin. Here, at least, I was sure that w_hould find what we sought—and, if not, then all Europe had reverted t_arbarism.
The weather remained fine, and we made excellent progress, but everywher_long the Rhine we met with the same disappointment—no sign of civilized man, in fact, no sign of man at all.
I was not enjoying the exploration of modern Europe as I had anticipated—I wa_nhappy. Victory seemed changed, too. I had enjoyed her company at first, bu_ince the trip across the Channel I had held aloof from her.
Her chin was in the air most of the time, and yet I rather think that sh_egretted her friendliness with Snider, for I noticed that she avoided hi_ntirely. He, on the contrary, emboldened by her former friendliness, sough_very opportunity to be near her. I should have liked nothing better than _easonably good excuse to punch his head; yet, paradoxically, I was ashamed o_yself for harboring him any ill will. I realized that there was something th_atter with me, but I did not know what it was.
Matters remained thus for several days, and we continued our journey up th_hine. At Cologne, I had hoped to find some reassuring indications, but ther_as no Cologne. And as there had been no other cities along the river up t_hat point, the devastation was infinitely greater than time alone could hav_rought. Great guns, bombs, and mines must have leveled every building tha_an had raised, and then nature, unhindered, had covered the ghastly evidenc_f human depravity with her beauteous mantle of verdure. Splendid trees reare_heir stately tops where splendid cathedrals once had reared their domes, an_weet wild flowers blossomed in simple serenity in soil that once was drenche_ith human blood.
Nature had reclaimed what man had once stolen from her and defiled. A herd o_ebras grazed where once the German kaiser may have reviewed his troops. A_ntelope rested peacefully in a bed of daisies where, perhaps, two hundre_ears ago a big gun belched its terror-laden messages of death, of hate, o_estruction against the works of man and God alike.
We were in need of fresh meat, yet I hesitated to shatter the quiet an_eaceful serenity of the view with the crack of a rifle and the death of on_f those beautiful creatures before us. But it had to be done—we must eat. _eft the work to Delcarte, however, and in a moment we had two antelope an_he landscape to ourselves.
After eating, we boarded the launch and continued up the river. For two day_e passed through a primeval wilderness. In the afternoon of the second day w_anded upon the west bank of the river, and, leaving Snider and Thirty-six t_uard Victory and the launch, Delcarte, Taylor, and I set out after game.
We tramped away from the river for upwards of an hour before discoverin_nything, and then only a small red deer, which Taylor brought down with _eat shot of two hundred yards. It was getting too late to proceed farther, s_e rigged a sling, and the two men carried the deer back toward the launc_hile I walked a hundred yards ahead, in the hope of bagging something furthe_or our larder.
We had covered about half the distance to the river, when I suddenly came fac_o face with a man. He was as primitive and uncouth in appearance as th_rabritins—a shaggy, unkempt savage, clothed in a shirt of skin cured with th_ead on, the latter surmounting his own head to form a bonnet, and giving t_im a most fearful and ferocious aspect.
The fellow was armed with a long spear and a club, the latter dangling dow_is back from a leathern thong about his neck. His feet were incased in hid_andals.
At sight of me, he halted for an instant, then turned and dove into th_orest, and, though I called reassuringly to him in English he did not retur_or did I again see him.
The sight of the wild man raised my hopes once more that elsewhere we migh_ind men in a higher state of civilization—it was the society of civilized ma_hat I craved—and so, with a lighter heart, I continued on toward the rive_nd the launch.
I was still some distance ahead of Delcarte and Taylor, when I came in sigh_f the Rhine again. But I came to the water's edge before I noticed tha_nything was amiss with the party we had left there a few hours before.
My first intimation of disaster was the absence of the launch from its forme_oorings. And then, a moment later—I discovered the body of a man lying upo_he bank. Running toward it, I saw that it was Thirty-six, and as I stoppe_nd raised the Grabritin's head in my arms, I heard a faint moan break fro_is lips. He was not dead, but that he was badly injured was all too evident.
Delcarte and Taylor came up a moment later, and the three of us worked ove_he fellow, hoping to revive him that he might tell us what had happened, an_hat had become of the others. My first thought was prompted by the sight _ad recently had of the savage native. The little party had evidently bee_urprised, and in the attack Thirty-six had been wounded and the others take_risoners. The thought was almost like a physical blow in the face—it stunne_e. Victory in the hands of these abysmal brutes! It was frightful. I almos_hook poor Thirty-six in my efforts to revive him.
I explained my theory to the others, and then Delcarte shattered it by _ingle movement of the hand. He drew aside the lion's skin that covered hal_f the Grabritin's breast, revealing a neat, round hole in Thirty-six'_hest—a hole that could have been made by no other weapon than a rifle.
"Snider!" I exclaimed. Delcarte nodded. At about the same time the eyelids o_he wounded man fluttered, and raised. He looked up at us, and very slowly th_ight of consciousness returned to his eyes.
"What happened, Thirty-six?" I asked him.
He tried to reply, but the effort caused him to cough, bringing about _emorrhage of the lungs and again he fell back exhausted. For several lon_inutes he lay as one dead, then in an almost inaudible whisper he spoke.
"Snider—" He paused, tried to speak again, raised a hand, and pointed down- river. "They—went—back," and then he shuddered convulsively and died.
None of us voiced his belief. But I think they were all alike: Victory an_nider had stolen the launch, and deserted us.